Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Sorry this is a slightly premature greeting but I'm going away for a couple of weeks and won't have internet access apart from internet cafes.

So Merry Christmas to all readers of Hawkins Bizarre - thanks for all your comments and support this year and here's to a great festive season!

See you in the New Year.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Future of Literary Hist Fic

I was in Cambridge last week and, of course, I made the obligatory visit to Heffers where, amongst other things (including a happy hour spent in the medieval history section – yes, a whole section, not just a shelf!!) I found Testament in an alcove designated ‘Historical Crime’. As Waterstones seem to have stopped stocking Testament I was delighted to find it in Heffers but, whilst not at all dismayed to find it in a section which is likely to sell more copies than ‘general fiction’, I am slightly bemused to see it described as ‘crime’. Things happen in it which are, undoubtely, criminal but I wouldn’t say that they are the central thrust of the book. Perhaps Heffers is adopting the US publishing/bookselling genre of ‘crime/mystery’. Testament definitely fits into that as the whole thing pivots on the mystery of the wall painting.

The inclusion of my work in ‘historical crime’ made me think, though. The Black and The White would fit much more comfortably into that genre, though it’s not a conventional ‘murder mystery’ format. The book I’m currently researching and planning sits even more squarely in the crime genre. So, am I becoming a historical crime novelist?



Why not? Crime has always been a favourite genre of mine and, when done well and/or innovatively (Barbara Vine, Sophie Hannah, Kate Atkinson, M.R.Hall, to name but a few) it’s hard to beat. And I’m not on my own. There’s a huge market out there for well-written crime.

So am I cravenly going down a route I believe to be more marketable? Well, if I was doing it simply because it would be marketable, that would be craven but I’m not. My preoccupation with history and my love of crime plots were always going to come together eventually. (As it happens, the first novel I ever wrote was a split-time crime novel with a policeman as the main contemporary protagonist.)

But, whether or not I’m turning into a historical crime novelist, all this reflection has made me wonder: with the increasing genrification of fiction driven by publishers’ marketing departments, is there space, any more, for literary historical fiction of the kind represented by Rose Tremain’s Restoration, Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt or - my own favourite - Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders?

I know that at least one of the MNW hist-fic crew had to resist suggestions that her work was basically a historical romance and fight for it to be a straightforward work of literature.

So, writers and readers of hist-fic, how do you like your history. Is it desirable (by which I don’t just mean ‘more marketable) for books to be ‘history plus’ - history plus romance, history plus crime, history which is basically famous people doing what they did in a fictionalised way? Or is there room for hist lit fic?

And, if so, what’s your favourite? (So I can ask for last minute Christmas books…)

Monday, 13 December 2010

Why the Coalition Government has lost my support

I don’t generally make political remarks on this blog. Normally, I confine myself to matters related to reading, writing and, occasionally, my life as both reader and writer. But, occasionally, politics impacts on those things, breaking through my general cynicism about the populace’s ability to change anything and provoking genuine outrage. The whole tuition fees debate is just such an issue.

It’s not an issue for me simply because it will impact on my family, though it will; hundreds of thousands of families will be impacted on in exactly the same way, some more so. At least only one of my sons will have to pay the new exorbitant fees.

It’s not an issue for me simply because of the hypocrisy and power-hungry spinelessness of the Liberal Democrats – a party I have voted for consistently ever since I reached the age at which I was able to vote because I thought Liberal meant liberal.

It’s not an issue for me simply because of the utterly outrageous burden that the young people of our country are being asked to take on in this supposedly collective belt-tightening, a burden so far in excess of the other cut-and-tax measures as to be ridiculous.

The coalition’s stated aim was to cut by 80% and tax by 20%. Well they’re certainly cutting the universities’ tutorial grant by 80% - a far greater cut than any other public service is being asked to bear - but instead of raising the students’ burden by 20% they’re raising it by 200%. How is that fair? How is that proportionate and equitable?

The government thinks it can get away with that kind of increase because the young are in such a minority that even if they every single person under 25 voted to oust the current government, they couldn’t. There aren’t enough of them.

It’s not even an issue for me because of fatuous comments like the one I heard made during Radio 4’s coverage of the vote on tuition fees last Thursday. Some MP, asked for his opinion before the vote, opined that there were people in his constituency who had no hope of ever going to university and that they should not, therefore, be asked to pay for the education of those who are capable of benefitting from it.

Just how fatuous a remark that is can be seen if you replace ‘those who have no hope over ever going to university’ with ‘those who’ve never had occasion to go into hospital’ and ‘pay for the eduation of those who are capable of benefitting from it’ with ‘pay for the care of people who, sadly, are sick but no responsibility of mine.’

If you want to live in a country where those values are played out, help yourself. Start swimming off the West Coast of Ireland. The outrage over President Obama’s healthcare reforms shows exactly the same ‘it’s nothing to do with me so why should I pay?’ attitude.

The actual issue that is causing me such outrage is the underlying attitude towards education which this whole fiasco reveals. And that attitude is that education must pay its way in a very simplistic money-out-of-individual’s-pocket-as fees, money-back-into-individual’s-pocket-as-increased-income/tax-potential equation.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s philistinistic government of the late 70s and early 80s there seems to have been a growing acceptance amongst our ruling classes that education must be useful in a direct and obvious way. The increasing marginalisation of history, art, music and other ‘non-core’ subjects in schools betrays a mindset which says ‘if it ain’t useful to the common good, they can do it in their own time.’ Well what the hell is the common good if it’s not an agglommeration of all the individual goods?

When I was at university there was a ha-ha line going around that scientists ask ‘what’ and artists ‘why?’

This government needs to ask itself why it thinks having an educated, informed population of enquiring minds is not worth paying for. Particularly when it so clearly thinks that propping up a corrupt and reckless banking system is.

Here endeth the political rant.